How To Safely Add New Ingredients To Your Skincare Routine

Ready to try something new? Before you press 'add to cart,' make sure you understand the right way to introduce unfamiliar ingredients and products to your current routine. Your skin will thank you.
Written by Elise Minton Tabin
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How To Safely Add New Ingredients To Your Skincare RoutineProstock-studio/Shutterstock

There’s something exciting about discovering a brand new skincare ingredient or product —you know, the ones that make your skin look years younger and has everyone questioning what you’re using and where they can buy it. We are all for revamping a stale skincare routine and replacing ineffective ingredients with more valuable ones. But, before you go making any changes, it’s crucial to understand your skin and what it will positively respond to. Here’s what you need to know about safely adding new active ingredients to your skincare routine.

Know What Your Skin Needs

For starters, get to know your skin. Not every skin type is compatible with every single ingredient that’s on the market. Some are even detrimental to certain skin types. “The best products for your skin may be different from those of your best friend,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, a board certified dermatologist in New York City. “Your choice in specific preventative or repairing products depends on your skin type.” And then there is the fact that skin is constantly evolving, which is why it requires different ingredients and treatments at various stages of life.

The rule of thumb: Simpler is better. Make sure to focus on the basic tenets of healthy skin rather than gobbling up every new product innovation and ingredient breakthrough simply because it’s, well, new. Generally speaking, a well-rounded skincare routine includes:

  • Cleanser
  • Sunscreen
  • Moisturizer
  • Vitamin C
  • Retinol

“It’s important to find a cleanser that works well for your skin, sunscreen that doesn’t irritate you and you feel comfortable applying daily, the right moisturizer for your skin type, and a tolerable vitamin C for the morning and retinol at night,” says Samer Jaber, MD, a board certified dermatologist and founder of Washington Square Dermatology in NYC. From there, everything else is like a cherry on top.

When it comes to choosing products within those categories, consider your skin’s oil content. “Generally speaking, younger people produce more oil and older people make less,” says Morgan Rabach, MD, a board certified dermatologist and co-founder of LM Medical in NYC. “Skin type — oily, dry, combination, acne-prone, or sensitive — is important to consider because that makes a big difference in what ingredients the skin needs.” Oilier skin types usually do better lightweight or gel-based products with retinol, salicylic acid, and niacinamide. Drier and more mature skin craves richer hydrating and nourishing formulas packed with ceramides, alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), like glycolic acid, and hyaluronic acid (HA).

How to Add New Ingredients to Your Skincare Routine

Once you get a firm grasp on your skin type (when in doubt, consult with a board certified dermatologist), you’ll be able to narrow down which ingredients will work best for you. As exciting as the prospect of slathering on several new products can be, don’t go trying everything at once. Below are three things to keep in mind as you introduce new actives:

1. Start Slow

When introducing a new ingredient or product into your skincare routine, ease into it. “Slow and steady should be the general rule of thumb,” says Dr. Zeichner. As he explains, you’ll want to add one (and only one) product at a time, as testing more than one at once can be “damaging to the skin” in several ways. “First, if you develop an irritation or allergic reaction, it is important to know exactly what the culprit is and using multiple products can lead to confusion,” he shares. “Second, combining multiple products that individually can cause irritations may lead to a significant reaction when they are all used at the same time.”

If your skin burns, itches, peels, or becomes red, follow Dr. Zeichner’s advice and hold off on using said product for a day or two. “This is common, especially with products like retinol, which is known to irritate during the first two to four weeks,” he explains. “The skin is not allergic to the product, but rather undergoing an adjustment period known as retinization.” It’s important, however, to know the difference between sensitization and intolerance. “For all other products, developing redness, burning, or stinging may not be part of the adjustment phase,” he cautions. “You may need to discontinue use if your skin cannot tolerate them.”

After you successfully pass the two-week mark with a new product, it’s safe to begin working in another — following the exact same process.

2. Patch Test

This goes back to knowing your skin. For those with sensitive, easily irritated, or eczema-prone skin, veer on the side of caution and always patch-test something new for at least 24 to 48 hours (some allergies do not surface right away). Dr. Rabach encourages her patients with super sensitive or allergic skin to use the inner arm as a testing ground. “That way, you don’t put product all over your face and have an issue,” she says.

While there is no harm in patch testing, those with heartier complexions may find it superfluous. Additionally, everyone should keep in mind that some actives will likely cause irritation regardless of your skin type. “Certain ingredients, like retinol and benzoyl peroxide, are known to be potentially irritating,” Dr. Jaber cautions. AHAs also fall into that category, with redness, tingling, and flaking all possible as the skin adjusts. It doesn’t necessarily equate to a reaction or a need to stop using the product, but be sure to keep an eye on how severe and long-lasting the side effects are.

3. Be Consistent

Any time a new ingredient or product makes its way into a skincare routine, it should be used for a minimum of one month before ruling it out as ineffective. “Some actives, like retinol, actually change the cell biology and that takes time to notice a difference,” Dr. Rabach says. Just because you slather a serum or cream on your skin doesn’t mean you will see an instant result. As Dr. Zeichner explains, “it takes several weeks of continuous use to start to notice improvement from your products.”

Consistency is key in assessing a product’s effectiveness, and so is following the instructions. Yet some skin types need to dial it back a bit to reap an ingredient’s benefits. “If something new causes dryness, try scaling back on the frequency of application,” Dr. Jaber says. “For example, a product that should be applied twice daily can be used once daily, and a product intended for use once daily can be put on every other day or so.” Another way to make the intro period smoother? “Sometimes, adding a moisturizer can help make products more tolerable as well,” he adds. Don’t worry, you’ll still see results as long as the product is a good match for your skin.

If you prefer instant gratification, there are a few products that provide a quick fix. “The only ones that give some sort of immediate benefits are those that exfoliate or plump the skin, such as hydroxy acids or hyaluronic acid,” Dr. Zeichner explains. “Products that help strengthen, brighten, even skin tone, and improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles need to be used for several weeks or months before they provide noticeable improvements.” Moisturizers also tend to show fairly speedy results, whereas topical acne treatments and anti-aging formulas command upwards of two months of consistent use before positive changes are visible.

The Takeaway

Less is more when it comes to introducing brand new products and ingredients in your regular skincare routine. Be patient and give your skin the time it needs to become acclimated to something new. Once you find success with a newbie, additional products can be added — just make sure to follow the test, try, apply regularly, and assess protocol. Dr. Jaber sums it up with this simple-yet-sage sentiment: “When trying to find a long-lasting skincare regimen, you need to remember it’s not a race.”

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ELISE MINTON TABINis a contributing writer for AEDIT.

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